Masai Lands Face Rapid Change

In East Africa the problem is particularly acute. Since 1920 Uganda has converted 75 percent of its wildlife ranges to agricultural development. That same tide now runs strongly in Kenya and Tanzania.

Kenya’s Masailand, the country’s most fecund wildlife area, totals ten million acres, much of it land too dry for farming. Tradi¬tionally it has belonged to the pastoral Masai, who move about with their herds, seeking water and forage. They measure their wealth in cattle and rarely poach for skins or hunt for food. In the past they have coexisted well with wild animals.*

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But now the government has decided that by 1974 these lands will pass from collective tribal ownership into private hands—still Masai, but individuals and groups, for ranch¬ing. So land where cattle and wildlife alike once roamed freely will be cut up and fenced. The decision affects some eight and a half million acres, all the Masai rangeland not presently in parks and reserves.
In Tanzania a similar situation exists. Some years ago the government cut out of Serengeti National Park the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater and declared it and sur¬rounding lands the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where Masai would be permitted to live in their traditional manner.

Since then the government has proposed that 95 percent of the conservation area be used for agricultural development. Only Ngo¬rongoro Crater itself and the small Empa¬kaai Crater, 17 miles away, would be spared.

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At certain times of the year the hundred¬square-mile floor of the larger crater supports a concentration of wildlife rivaling that of the Serengeti Plain. The floor, containing a large blue lake, lies 5,600 feet above sea level, and the crater walls rise precipitously 2,000 feet higher. Driving about among wilde¬beest and zebra, eland and gazelle, lion and jackal in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, I could see game trails cut by animals obeying their age-old impulse to migrate, a tide that annually flows from far out in the Serengeti into Ngorongoro, and then, rhythmically, back again.

Will development cut those migratory routes? It seems likely. An Eden in peril.
Says Harry Selby, of the safari firm Ker, Downey, and Selby, “Animals need to mi¬grate. Cutting off their routes may prove to be a very drastic mistake.”

Sandy Field, former chief warden of Serengeti National Park, said to me: “The places where I used to hunt elephant twenty years ago now have roads and hotels. The bush is shrinking.” He pointed out that devel¬opment has now crept up to the very doorstep of the park. “Today you will see houses on the other side of the line,” he said, “whereas five years ago you would have seen none.”


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